Rosie Lowe - YU album review


The smoky-voiced R&B multi-instrumentalist charts the ups and downs of a relationship with the help of guests like Jay Electronica and Floating Points.

The Leeds-based singer Rosie Lowe debuted in 2013 with “Right Thing,” a brooding R&B-soul hybrid that made the aftereffects of a breakup sound like being submerged in a sensory deprivation tank. Her atmospheric 2016 LP Control explored the emotional give-and-take of modern dating, and despite being cloistered by a few too many glazed, anonymous synths, there were quietly compelling songs (see: the body-image treatise “Woman”) to bear out Lowe’s songwriting finesse. For follow-up YU, Lowe improves on her formula by expanding her circle. Calling on a diverse group of collaborators ranging from Jay Electronica to Floating Points, she assembles a warm-blooded pop/soul/funk hybrid that charts the ups and downs of a relationship.

Lowe’s lyrics can sometimes scan as overly simplistic, as on the icily aimless “Valium,” but her songwriting blooms when she leans on more fantastical metaphors. Early highlight “Pharoah” struts on a swaggering bass line and a hypnotic organ sample from Pharoah Sanders’ 1977 “Memories of Edith Johnson,” while Lowe conjures Egyptian gods and goddesses: “My hair is Nu/My face is Ra/My eyes are Hathor/But worlds apart.” On the simmering “Mango,” she plays Eve seducing Adam, ratcheting up the double entendres: “I adore the selection you bring/It’s your platter that makes my tastebuds ring/…And I’ve been looking for some fruit for my tree.”

Her gravelly, soaring voice is supported by Lowe’s longtime producer Dave Okumu, who adds dynamic, rubbery synths that feel like HD upgrades of his work on Control. On the disorienting highlight “ITILY,” a sweeping synth line underpins Lowe's moony thoughts of an affair: “Don’t wanna come on strong but he has gone out/And he won’t be home for another three hours.” The warped effect mimics the head rush of forbidden romance, with the repetition of the one-line chorus (“I think I love you”) drilling in its obsessive side-effects.

YU’s guest features occasionally come across as half-baked. The pop-minded “The Way,” driven by a jaunty bass guitar, is a bright spot until Jay Electronica settles into a long-winded, tacked-on guest verse addled by clumsy references to UK landmarks as well as the groan-inducing couplet, “Show me the way like Glinda Good Witch/My heart’s so tired like BFGoodrich.” Elsewhere, she casts a who’s-who of singers to fill in as a Greek chorus to better effect: Jamies Woon and Lidell, Kwabs, and Jordan Rakei make up the head-spinning, processed backing vocals on “Birdsong,” which also features a skidding, Jai Paul-ian electric guitar.

YU comes to us via Paul Epworth’s Wolf Tone Records, which may account for its vague sense of boutique-y, almost-too-tasteful A&R-ing (Epworth has steered Adele and Florence and the Machine’s music to similarly refined ends). Yet Lowe’s sophomore album retains a distinct point of view, with her folkloric sensibility and forward-thinking production shining through despite some smoothed-over platitudes. Lowe is only growing as an artist, and YU heralds a bright future.

Nyeste innlegg

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Austra "Being in a toxic relationship can sometimes feel like being lost in a maze."

Austra "Being in a toxic relationship can sometimes feel like being lost in a maze."

Being in a toxic relationship can sometimes feel like being lost in a maze. Every attempt to turn a corner lands you back where you started. Austra aka Katie Austra Stelmanis announces her fourth album. HiRUDiN is both a bold acknowledgement of such patterns of behaviour and a testament to the power of breaking them.

Katie Austra Stelmanis has been better known by her middle name for three albums, ten years, and countless tours. She wrote, produced, and performed all her own records, occasionally sharing the spotlight with a band to tour live. From the outside, things were going really well for a while: she built a devoted fan base and sold out shows all around the world. However, on the inside, Stelmanis was beginning to feel stagnant and uninspired. "I was losing faith in my own ideas," she explains. Without realising it, she'd got caught up in a toxic relationship that was tearing her apart.

It wasn't until Stelmanis was ready to face her insecurities that she was able to see a way forward: "My creative and personal relationships were heavily intertwined, and I knew the only answer was to part ways with all of the people and comforts that I'd known for the better part of a decade and start again." Alongside making changes in her personal life, HiRUDiN saw Austra taking an entirely different, free-spirited approach to making a record. Seeking out all new collaborators, she booked three days of sessions in Toronto with improv musicians she'd never met before. They included two thirds of contemporary classical improv group c_RL, the cellist and kamanche duo Kamancello, kulintang ensemble Pantayo, and a children's choir.

Accumulating a vast and vibrant mass of source material, Austra then holed up in a studio in the Spanish countryside and took a collage approach to sampling, arranging, writing and producing to reveal the songs that would form the album. "I found myself really enjoying the role of producer for this record," she says, "directing and arranging a very disparate array of parts and people and feeling strong in my own conviction for what I wanted it to sound like." HiRUDiN additionally saw her work alongside co-producers for the first time, Rodaidh McDonald and Joseph Shabason, and she brought in David Wrench and Heba Kadry to mix and master the record respectively. "It was incredibly liberating and a huge learning process to work with so many different people," she says. "I felt completely revitalized."

While Austra's third album, Future Politics, was concerned with the external power structures that shape society, HiRUDiN points inward. It traces a deeply personal journey towards regeneration, dealing with the fallout of toxic relationships, queer shame, and insecurity along the way. Named after the peptide released by leeches that is the most potent anticoagulant in the world, HiRUDiN is about the importance of healing the self, letting go of harmful influences, and finding the power to rebuild through exploring your innermost desires. It reaps the rewards of Austra's leap into the unknown, in her most introspective yet inventive statement to date.

Playground Music Playground Music
13.05.2020